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How often do you pair program and what do you make of them?

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Entry-Level Software Engineer at Series B Startup5 months ago

How often does everyone pair program here? And how do you regard them?

I am at a startup and since I have started, first as a junior, my pairing frequency is about 1-2x per week. I do not consider myself a junior anymore (at least not at the company, but maybe on Leetcode >_<) and find these sessions more valuable as volleying ideas flow more. I was wondering what it’s like for others and if it is a day in the life thing at big(ger) tech; is it kind of seldom or frowned upon or do some of you use it as a measure of skill, etc.

Hope everyone is having a good start to the week!



  • Andrew Stiles
    Senior SWE + Researcher, 23andMe
    5 months ago

    I used to work on a consumer-facing team and did some pair programming there. It was useful when working through subtle concurrency issues during a major site re-design.

    I don't pair program today but sometimes do interactive "let's look at code" Zoom sessions.

    1 Like
  • Alex Chiou
    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    5 months ago

    Pair programming is fundamentally not scalable as it sucks up multiple engineers' time, but there's a ton of nuance there. I have a lot of thoughts on the topic, so I'll split it up into multiple comments.

    What I Generally Do

    • My default operating model is to not pair program, and that's generally what every team I've been on has been like.
    • Even with my mentees, I generally pushed them to figure things out on their own; however, I would pair program with them as a safety net if they really needed it.
    • Pair programming at Meta was pretty rare as you need to move fast there, and there's a big emphasis on becoming very independent. I've heard similar things about other Big Tech companies.
    • If I were to put a frequency on it, I pair programmed maybe once every 2-3 months, usually as the driver. I have rarely pair programmed as the "passenger". However, I have been a tech lead for most of my career (after 1 YOE, I joined Course Hero as their Android TL), so I'm sure my experience is skewed.
    1 Like
  • Alex Chiou
    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    5 months ago

    When Does Pair Programming Make Sense?

    • Onboarding is by far the most powerful use-case IMHO. It provides a rapid-fire way for you to understand the codebase since you can easily ask follow-up questions and builds up relationships between you and other members of the team. Something else to keep in mind is that onboarding doesn't only apply to when you switch teams/companies - You are onboarding when you're changing tech stacks as well, even if you're staying within the same team.
    • In a remote environment, pair programming is valuable as it fills in some of the void from not being in person, particularly the "learning via osmosis" you get when you're in an office alongside everyone else.
    • When you're earlier on in career, pair programming will pay higher dividends too.
    1 Like
  • Alex Chiou
    Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero, PayPal
    5 months ago

    So What Should You Do?

    • If you feel like this pair programming works for you and the teammates you're pairing with, by all means, continue doing it!
    • The main thing I recommend here is to get the maximum value from these pair programming sessions. When you're out of the onboarding phase, the purpose of pair programming should shift from tactical (i.e. "teach me how this codebase works") to more strategic/high-level. To better capture what I mean here, here are some questions you can ask while pair programming with a more senior engineer:
      • "How did you decide on this approach?"
      • "How do we know that this code covers all edge cases and will work at scale?"
      • "What principles do you follow when you come up with a system design or decide between 2 ways of coding something?"
      • "If I wanted to tackle this problem completely on my own, what tools and processes can I follow to do it?"
    • I think in this post-covid world, pair programming is a much more important tactic.
    • Since you're not junior anymore, consider being the "driver" and proactively volunteering to pair program with others as well, especially new folks who join your team.

    For more tips on what more fundamental software engineering skills you should learn from pair programming, I highly recommend my in-depth system design case study series.